Currently, I work on two main project. The first one is the national River Health Programme which aim at monitoring the evolution of river health in South Africa. Our team then survey the major river of KwaZulu Natal : +/- 40 sites 4 times a year. I mainly visit the catchment of the Umgeni and Thukela rivers.
The nice part of a life on the field is that I can enjoy remote place that are not always that easily accessible for the common tourist. One of my favorite place is the Kamberg Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg Mountains.
When I can, I try to enjoy the place a little bit… this is rarely the case ! In Kamberg, we decided to take a short hike to a cave and a waterfall. Well, after that, we had a late working day. But, totally worth it !
On top of that, I also work on a brand new telemetry project – remotely tacking of fish behaviour ! This is quite fascinating. For that project, I need to equipped eels and yellowfish with smart telemetry tags, surgically !
My first surgery was quite stressful (for me, not for the fish !) but everything went smoothly and I was able to tag 3 yellowfish. This is rather good knowing the constraints : we need big fat fish over 1,5 kg… and they’re not that easy to catch !
Being an ecologist can sometime be quite frustrating : 4 days outdoor with an average working day of 10-12h with boiling heat… and no eels ! Sometimes, it’s a lot of energy for almost nothing – but, well, we get to make magical memories and to go pretty extraordinary places… I can’t get always get the cake and eat it too.
The danger ?!?
There are the obvious dangers…
And, an invisible danger : bilharzia !
The bilha-what ? Bilharziasis (or schistosomiasis) is a chronic parasitosis caused by worms (trematodes) of the genus Schistosoma. These worms develop during a cycle where they also infect an intermediate host, a small mollusc living in the rivers … which will therefore release the larvae. These larvae will then contaminate their final host…humans who will have been in contact with infested water. Well, to be faire, a simple splash is enough (scary, eh ?!). These little worms will end their cycle and return to the river via urine. This parasite is particularly present in areas of rural Africa (and in tropical and subtropical areas at risk in general) where poorer populations do not have access to drinking water and adequate sanitation .
Fortunately, a very effective treatment, praziquantel, is available. Again, not necessarily to the most affected (often the most remote) communities that do not necessarily have access to appropriate health care.
See you soon for my next adventure !